The UPMC Health Plan has launched a virtual concierge service that integrates its 4-member Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices, bringing together a growing number of health insurers that integrate plan information with smart speakers. The Pittsburgh-based insurer, an arm of the UPMC academic medical center, launched the service on Google Home in February and Amazon Alexa in March. Since then, members have been engaging with digital voice assistants twice as long compared to public site users, said Chris Daley, director of digital technology services at UPMC’s Health Plan. There is no cost to the user.
“We’re seeing this growth in usage,” Daley said. “One of the first places that people use this technology is at home and, as more people are at home more and more, it has become more and more useful.”
Members can ask digital assistants basic questions, such as learning about UPMC’s telehealth offerings, where to find the COVID-19 vaccine, understanding the basic terms of health insurance and even more. A UPMC poll of members said 40% said they would use a voice concierge service to learn more about the health plan. Daley also pointed to the data showing that individuals engage with these services more often than with public websites or apps, saying that “users who use it monthly now use it weekly, users who use it on a weekly basis. ‘they use it weekly now they use it every day, so we’re looking forward to this growth in usage.’
By sharing the information with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, Daley said UPMC also ensures that these devices pull only accurate information about the plan directly from their website. The chatbot cannot respond to any information behind the individuals ’personal portal. This is the path that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has followed with its Alexa integration, saying that “national privacy regulations prevents Amazon Alexa from using any health identifying information. Because of this, the MIBlue ability does not allow you to access your member coverage information. “
“We don’t know anything about who the users are and we don’t want to know,” Daley said. “It’s really about giving them a convenient way to make public information easier for them to get.”
Over time, he said UPMC will prepare more content that individuals can request on their home voice device. By making it easier for members to access basic information about their benefits, insurers could look at this as an investment in preventative services, said Adam Block, New York health economist, who , in turn, could lower healthcare costs. While UPMC is expected to answer basic questions about online coverage, the insurer could eventually move into the area of appointment planning, promote medication adherence, offer personal claims information and even more. This is the path that the anthem is gone with its integration of smart speakers.
The Indianapolis-based insurer, which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in 14 states, said Amazon Alexa uses its voice inputs to improve the quality of its AI system, listens only to active requests and “has no way to identify who asked the question ”. Anthem added that Alexa does not record audio unless ordered by the user, a finding in contrast to reports that Amazon’s digital assistant is still listening.
“Privacy is always an issue and I personally don’t have an Alexa because of it. I’m worried about you listening when you don’t talk to them,” Block said. “But if you enabled this, you made this choice.”
Following user requests with Alexa, Amazon could work to start its own health insurance company, a company it had tried to do with the now disappeared Haven, Said Block. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant could also track UnitedHealth Group’s Optum subsidiary, and sell the data it collects to interested third parties. Optum now represents the fastest growing subsidiary of Minnetonka, Minn.
“I don’t think they’re going to get into health insurance anytime soon,” Block said. “But that doesn’t take away from their reach. Amazon has a very broad desire to enter a space that is notoriously consumer-friendly, and has built its empire by being easily accessible.”